Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hell's Procession: Spain

Editor:  As a child, I fell into a deep sleep after eating sweets, rich sweet creme cheese dainties, frosted with glistening quartz sugar, gingerbread men as large as small dogs, and slender cones filled with ice scream as tall as Cathedral spires while I listened all the while to tales that hadn't been sanitized by our authorities about dark castles, impenetrable enchanted forests and the dark things that moved the human heart to do terrible things from our gramophone in the smi-darkness of my childhood home.  Falling asleep, I was transported near a place not too far from my home on the edge of a river, where red Indians hunted their game in the summer and the sleepy oaks had seen the coming and going of hundreds of years.  As I walked along the road, I saw low fire ahead of me in the garden yard of a very small cottage, the kind in which an old widow might be spending her years to see a single dark figure sitting there, its wavering giant shadow cast rhythmically against the worn front of the tired old house which was more of a picturesque shed.  Its disrepair was clear even in the faint firelight, the only light which shone in the darkness of the neighborhood, the eves of the tall, elegant homes surrounding, visible against the faint stars of a moonless sky in the sepulchral silence.

Everything was silent, except for the gentle simmering of the fire over which stood another brazier, filled with red coals and the silent figure standing watch over it.  It was completely enrobed in black and I could see no face against the faint light of the coals and it made no movement or sign of recognition as I said, "hello".  Out of the darkness, I could hear the footsteps and hushed whispering of a very large throng of people moving up the street beyond, a joyless procession of lone voices occasionally called out from it, some I even recognized, a hopeless throng with occasional cries of despair, marching to or from the pit as it seemed.   I could even hear the voices of friends against the dark slump of hundreds of shapes lurching slowly forward, a weird procession of Hell it seemed. . Then I awoke and went to school, but never forgot the dream, even writing down in case my memory would change it in some way.

It comes to my mind after having read this passage on Arturo Vasquez's folk Catholicism blog, about a decadent who died in an accident in the street where he was struck by a garbage truck in the morning light as he stumbled from a brothel, an unconfessed, and lifelong débauché,, he has become for the increasingly irreligious majority of Spain a kind of anti-Saint, and his procession competes with the official one, according to Vasques. It is, a procession from and to Hell and it struck a chord which reminded me of the procession of my childhood dream so long ago.

Probably one of the more unique stories in the Spanish speaking world during holy week, this is a procession done on the night of Holy Thursday in commemoration of the tragic death of one of Leon’s most infamous clients of the bars and whorehouses there, Genaro Blanco Blanco, later known as San Genarín. At dawn on Holy Thursday, 1929, while completely drunk, Genaro was hit by the first garbage truck of the day while relieving himself on a wall. A few of his friends (later known as the “Evangelists) deeply appreciative of having known this bon vivant and figure on the bohemian scene of Leon, decided to have their own procession the next Holy Thursday, 1930, in which they went to all of the bars and whorehouses that Genaro once frequented. The legend then grew to include miracles attributed to “San Genarín”, such as a person being cured of a kidney ailment and a miraculous goal for the home team in an important game. The numbers in the annual procession grew until 1957, when it was banned by the fascist authorities, some say because it had more participants than the religious one.

After a twenty year hiatus, the processions began again, and continue to this day. They are complete with torches, statues of the people involved in the historical events, couplets celebrating the life of the “saint”, and offerings at the site of death. It is perhaps the only example that I know of where militant secularists have their own procession to rival the Catholic ones of Holy Week.

Link to Reditus...


  1. Once you are only reading a blog to find things you don't agree with, it is probably time to stop.

  2. Unlike you, we believe in something. We're not just living because we have nothing else better to do, and waiting in hopes something interesting, amusing or entertaining will happen.

    We're on a mission. What are you doing? Waiting for godot?

  3. For the revolution, comrade, the revolution.